I found Rick with 3E. There were six apartments on each floor, A through F. My place, A, was next to the stairs, then came Jeff’s place B, then Rick’s apartment, C. On the opposite side, Rick’s apartment was across from D, whose occupant I hadn’t met yet. I was across from Stephani, in F.
3E still had both her dog and Stephani’s shih tzu. They frolicked on glitzy little leashes, tangling themselves around her ankles as she talked. With her head tilted down, I couldn’t tell if she was looking at me or not, but I said hello to her too.
Rick turned to me. “Hey, they sprang you.”
He ignored that. “This is Carla.”
“We met last night. Nice to put a name to the apartment number.” I would have held my hand out to shake Carla’s, but instinct told me she’d leave me hanging.
“I should go now.” She turned to go back inside her place.
I glanced down at the dogs. “Stephani not back yet?”
“She called.” Carla untangled their leashes. “She’ll be back soon. They want to make sure Pepper’s okay.”
“Good. I hope she is. Nice meeting you.” She closed the door between us.
Rick and I stared after her. He said, “I was going to leave this for you.”
He stuck a Post-it on my borrowed T-shirt that read: Stop by after you get back? 3C.
Did he know they wouldn’t charge me? Or had he written the note just in case?
“I need to get a shower and change first.”
“Take your time.” He stopped at his door. “I’ll be here.”
When I entered my place, the mess shocked me. Greasy splotches covered the walls and kitchen counters. My stuff had been flung all over. I got it. The cops wanted a nice, neat solution to their case, and so far I was looking good for the role of “mystery killer.”
But did they have to trash my place?
With a sigh, I put my problems aside in favor of a steaming-hot shower and a change of clothes.
I should have let the curiosity in a certain pair of shrewd brown eyes go. I should have avoided Rick altogether. That didn’t stop me from putting on my softest man-trap jeans and a gray V-neck sweater that showed my stockpot-hoisting shoulders and meat-cleaving arms to advantage.
Rick might be straight as an arrow, and his concern of the protect-and-serve variety, but I doubted it. I didn’t get looks like that from straight guys.
Plus, no matter what he said, I thought he remembered me. There hadn’t been much light the night he tried to pay me back what his cohorts owed the restaurant, but I’d seen him clearly enough to remember the moment all these years later.
I was young then, and he was even younger. I’d wanted him, thought about pulling him into the shadows and kissing the smug smirk off his face. It appeared nothing had changed with time.
I was new in the building, and I needed friends.
Whatever drove his invitation was fine by me.
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